Patience Stretching Is the Key to Raising a More Patient Toddler, According to Dr. Harvey Karp

Nobody is more urgent than a toddler, demanding a snack she needs to eat right NOW. It doesn’t matter that you’re in the middle of something. Patience isn’t a virtue when it comes to this age group—or is it? According to Harvey Karp, M.D., known not only for his Happiest Baby (and Toddler) book series but also for his recently launched Snoo bassinet, there is a technique you can teach, even at the earliest stage of toddlerhood, to increase the ability to wait: It’s called patience stretching.

What is “patience stretching”? Patience stretching requires an incremental approach to teaching toddlers how to wait for what they want. The end goal is to give it to her, but you need to implement a delay (just for a few seconds) before rewarding her request.

Can you give me an example? Say your toddler asks for a cup of juice while you’re preparing her breakfast. Instead of delivering it outright, say, “Juice? You want juice?” But right as you go to hand it to her, stop yourself and say, “Wait! Just one second!” as you turn away like you’re about to quickly do something else. After a few seconds, follow through with the juice and praise: “Good waiting!”

Here’s what you’re teaching: Not only did you reward your toddler for waiting but you taught her a valuable lesson about your personal integrity: Mama always means what she says.

As for the stretching part? As your toddler grows used to this tactic, continue to increase the length of time you make her wait. (Start with five seconds, but then increase to 10, 20, 60 and so on.) After all, they’re fast learners. And teaching patience is possible—at every age and stage.

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